Wise decision?
He departed. Ah Chang shrugged impassively. He returned to the jetty and settled down with his newspaper. The afternoon sun blazed down. It was very hot. I retreated once again to the security of my towel, and I sat in my cane chair with the sweat pouring down my face.

Tundah returned in the fullness of time, accompanied by the same Chinese mechanic – a man of many talents, who had worked on timber camps for several years. The steering system was dismantled. The nest of wires was disentangled, and reassembled. For good measure he restarted both engines and tested them once again. By the time he was finished, it was late afternoon. The shadows were beginning to lengthen and the sun was low above the mangroves.

I found some soft drinks in one of our boxes of provisions and passed them around. It was, to the best of my knowledge, the only nourishment taken by any of us that day. “Where you head for?” asked the mechanic.

“We are going down the Gum Gum Creek, out to the open sea, along the coast and up the Labuk River to Klagan,” I told him. “It should take us about two hours or so.”

“Not wise you leave so late lah,” he said. “Will be dark by the time you reach the sea. Now, monsoon make big waves in afternoons. Better you travel tomorrow morning lah.”

“What do you think, Tundah?” I asked.

“Whatever Tuan decides, OK by me,” he said helpfully.

There was no point in consulting Ah Chang. He was strictly a townee. He had worked in Sandakan all his life. He had needed a certain amount of persuasion and a promise of $20 a month more than he could earn with any employer in Sandakan before agreeing to come and work in the jungle. I looked at him. He shrugged; the archetypal inscrutable Oriental.

“Let’s go” I said. “We’ll try to keep as close in to the shore as we can.”

Datuk Leslie Davidson
Author, East of Kinabalu
Former Chairman, Unilever Plantations International

The second part will be published in the next issue. This is an edited chapter from the book published in 2007. It can be purchased from the Incorporated Society of Planters; email:


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